This page considers workplace privacy in Australia, in
particular covert and overt electronic surveillance of
It covers -
As preceding pages have indicated, legal recognition of
workplace privacy rights in Australia has evolved over
the past century. It has gathered pace as businesses,
government agencies and other organisations have moved
to adopt closed circuit video surveillance, email
monitoring and geospatial tracking of employees/agents.
There is no common law action for breach of privacy and
there is uncertainty regarding whether federal telecommunications
interception laws prohibits email monitoring by an individual's
The federal privacy regime is weakened through substantial
exemptions for 'employee records' (and for 'small businesses')
and thus provides limited protection to employees.
It is also bounded by contract law, with consumers and
visitors to entertainment venues for example typically
agreeing to terms such as bag searches as a condition
of entry to the premises.
Concerns regarding workplace privacy have centred on covert
surveillance, ie monitoring of communication or activity
without agreement by an employee or customer.
In the past employers deployed a range of mechanisms to
address fraud, embezzlement and other crime by employees
(including use of mirrors and cameras in changerooms or
security staff hidden in airconditioning ducts or on ladders
outside staff facilities) or to identify trade union and
political activity (eg surreptitious inspection of desk
drawers, personal bags or lockers.
The more enlightened indicated that telephone conversations
in the workplace - or telegraphic traffic - might be surveilled.
Others simply monitored calls without an explicit statement.
Some alerted staff that outgoing mail might be examined;
the extent to which employers opened incoming 'personal'
mail is unclear. Some conducted inspections of desks and
lockers on an ad hoc basis; others examined more
systematically (although generally surreptitiously, given
expressions of concern by individuals and unions).
Disquiet in recent years has encompassed -
surveillance - using closed-circuit television or other
imaging equipment for real-time and/or recorded monitoring
of employees and customers
surveillance - use of network management software, keyloggers
and other hardware/software to identify an individual's
use of IT equipment (including tracking visits to websites,
downloading/sending music and other content, viewing
email and checking keyboard activity for performance
surveillance - electronically tracking of the location
or movement of employees through for example GIS devices
in vehicles or tags worn by employees within a building
has also encompassed unauthorised use/distribution of
information that may have been legitimately collected
(for example employees supplying media organisations -
or their mates and anyone with access to an 'expose' site
- with prurient photographs and video taken in lifts and